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iPhone or iSpy? Feds, Lawyers Tackle Mobile Privacy

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Some iPhone apps ask you for permission to track your geographical location. However, some apps pull such data without your approval.

If people want to know everything about you, they need look no further than your smartphone. It contains a host of your personal information and leaves a trail of digital footprints everywhere you go.

A proposed class-action lawsuit filed last week alleges that Apple and a handful of app makers are invading user privacy by accessing personal data from customers' smartphones without permission and sharing it with third-party advertisers.

Concurrently, federal prosecutors in New Jersey are investigating whether several smartphone app makers, including Pandora, are transmitting customer information without proper disclosure. Separately, Congress is mulling legislation aimed at giving consumers the option to tell companies not to track their personal data.

“I'm glad this is coming to light, because I think consumers are waking up to the tracking that's going on with a computer, but I think there's an extreme lack of knowledge about the tracking on your iPhone gadget or your iPad,” said Sharon Nissim, consumer privacy counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which is not involved in the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs Natasha Acosta and Dolma Acevedo-Crespo on April 7 filed a civil complaint against Apple and eight companies providing iPhone or iPad apps, accusing them of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by intentionally accessing customer information without their authorization. The complaint seeks class action status on behalf of every iPhone or iPad user who has installed one of the defendant's apps over the last four years.

Well-known apps named in the lawsuit, which was filed in the district of Puerto Rico, include music-streaming service Pandora and

The complaint accuses both and Pandora [.pdf] of sharing an iPhone user's unique device identifier, age, gender, location to third parties, including advertisers. Neither Pandora nor are services that rely on location, the complaint notes.

The lawsuit cites as evidence an ongoing independent investigation by the Wall Street Journal, which tested 101 apps and found that 56 transmitted the phone's UDID to third parties without user awareness or consent.

An iPhone does not transmit a customer's real name, but Apple and third-party apps can identify a device with a string of unique numbers, known as the unique device identifier (UDID).

The problem is, with a UDID and other personal information such as location, age and gender data, a company could easily piece together the real identity of a smartphone user and sell that information to marketers, explained John Nevares, a lawyer representing the class-action complaint.

“When you put those together they're able to transfer to a third party all your personal information so they can contact you later on and try to sell you something,” Nevares said. He added that this type of activity constitutes fraud and deceptive practices.

EPIC's Nissim echoed Nevares' concerns.

“There hasn't been a lot of recognition that that type of identified number should be treated as personally identifiable information,” Nissim said. “If it's combined with other information it could be used to identify you, and it becomes a goldmine of data for advertisers.”

Also as a result of Wall Street Journal's investigation, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas to multiple iPhone and Android app makers, including Pandora and Anthony Campiti, creator of the Pumpkin Maker iPhone app. Pumpkin Maker, which is also named in the New Zealand class-action complaint, is an app that allows customers to carve virtual Jack-O-Lanterns. The WSJ found that this app shares UDID and location data with advertisers.

The federal investigation is significant, because it could result in criminal charges against companies accused of committing fraud, the WSJ notes. However, it's rare that companies get charged with criminal offenses, the investigation may evolve into a civil issue, meaning companies could be forced to pay monetary damages and promise to cease these practices.

“They're just doing information-gathering to get a better understanding” of the industry, Campiti told WSJ. “We're not doing anything wrong and neither is anyone else doing anything wrong.”

Apple declined to comment on this story.

However, an Apple spokeswoman referred to Apple's privacy policy, which states, “We may collect information such as occupation, language, zip code, area code, unique device identifier, location, and the time zone where an Apple product is used so that we can better understand customer behavior and improve our products, services, and advertising.”

Issues of mobile privacy are not unique to the United States. In Germany, politician and privacy advocate Malte Spitz sued his carrier, Deutsche Telekom, to get all the information it had on him.

The telecom giant handed over to Spitz a gigantic file revealing it had tracked him 35,000 times between August 2009 and February 2010 - enough data points for German newspaper Die Zeit to compile an interactive map and video tracking his every move for six months.

In response to the Spitz incident, two U.S. Congressmen are urging American phone companies AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile to disclose their data collection practices.


iPhone 5 production may start in July or August

There’s still no official word on when the iPhone 5 gadget will be announced or released, but here are some new rumors regarding Apple’s upcoming smartphone.

According to “three people with direct knowledge of Apple’s supply chain” quoted by Reuters, the new iPhone will enter production in July / August – thus earlier than we’ve previously heard this would happen.

If the mentioned sources are to be believed, the iPhone 5 will be shipped starting September, so that’s the month when the device should also be available for purchase.

There have been lots of speculations on the features and design of Apple’s new iPhone. A faster (dual-core processor) will most likely be included, as well as a better camera (8MP). It remains to be seen if the handset’s display will be larger than the current one (3.5 inches) – if yes, the iPhone 5 gadget may look like in the rendering above. If not, well, then I suppose we should get ready for an iPhone 4 lookalike


Energizer Inductive Charger and iPhone 4 Qi Sleeve Review

The Energizer Inductive Charger and the iPhone 4 Qi (pronounced chee) Sleeve is the newest wireless charging system promising to simplify your charging experience for your myriad rechargable devices. It uses the Qi standard for charging, which is a global standard for wireless charging systems. What this should mean is that as more devices ship with integrated induction charging using this standard, you’ll be able to use them with this charging pad. In the meantime you’re stuck using sleeves to add the necessary charging magic to existing devices, and this is where the promise of easy cable-free charging meets the stark reality of not having any native support in a sleek device for such charging.
Stuff Inside

The system consists of the Charging Pad & its wall wart. The Sleeve is just that – only a sleeve that connects the dock of the iPhone4 to the inductive power receiver embedded in the back of the sleeve.

The Charging Pad

The Pad provides two charging spots (marked with the Qi symbol) with corresponding blue LEDs overhead to indicate charging status. On the back edge of the Pad there’s a standard powered USB port, for charging devices via wired USB. When a Qi device is placed pretty much anywhere on/over either spot, The blue LED lights up indicating the device is charging. It goes out when the device is fully charged.

The Sleeve

The iPhone 4 sleeve is the weak link in this system. Although it is easy enough to side a bare iPhone 4 into/out of the sleeve, and you could leave your phone in the sleeve at all times, it is both too large and heavy and makes for a poor phone case.

You can see the sleeve provides routing for the bottom speaker and mic to the front of the case. However, the dock is “consumed” by the sleeve, so there is no way provided to connect your en-sleeved iPhone 4 to anything else.

The sleeve covers the back fully, with a cutout for the camera & flash.

The top and left side are left uncovered to allow for access to controls and the headphone jack:


The good news is, the system works really well. Slide the iPhone 4 into the sleeve, and you’re done. Just drop it anywhere generally over the Qi circle on either side of the charger, and your iPhone will happily report it’s “plugged in” and charging

Pick it up, and it’s “unplugged” – drop it back on, it’s plugged in.
Charge times

As far as I can tell, the power supplied by the Energizer Inductive Charger gadget is roughly equivalent to that provided by the Apple mini AC adapter – there is no technical information provided with either the pad or the sleeve, nor on the Energizer website, detailing the amount of power being delivered. Nonetheless dropping the iPhone 4 on the pad delivered a fully charged iPhone 4 in roughly the same amount of time as it would if plugged into AC.
Usage Ups and Downs

I tried to leave the sleeve on during the day, but it’s just not practical. I’m not at all happy with the additional bulk and weight – the iPhone 4 itself is 137 grams, the Qi Sleeve is nearly exactly 1/3 of that at 46 grams. It adds 9mm to both the width and height, and a massive 6mm to the thickness of the iPhone 4. Even worse, I lost the ability to dock in my car (which has an iPhone/iPod dock) or to quickly dock/sync/grab a photo off via USB cable at work, without taking the sleeve off. Swapping the sleeve multiple times during the day just didn’t work.

What did work was just swapping my normal jell case (which adds a couple grams of weight and less than 1mm all around) for the sleeve when I arrived at home, and then returning the iPhone to the jell case as I left for the day the next morning. Leaving the charging pad on the bedside table, I just dropped the phone on it before turning in, and grabbed it (and then, swapping cases… argh!) in the morning.

The Qi standard for inductive charging should finally allow manufacturers to embed the receiving portion of the system into new rechargeable products, eliminating the major flaw of requiring a sleeve or other add-on to bridge the native wired charging port to an inductive receiving system in the sleeve. Until that time, the design of the sleeve is critical, and the current Energizer iPhone 4 sleeve gadget doesn’t quite provide a usable solution. The added size and weight, along with the nearly fatal blockage of the dock without even providing an alternate microUSB connection, makes it impossible to go any significant amount of time with the Sleeve on the phone. So, you can plug and unplug a cable to charge, or you can plug and unplug the sleeve to charge. Either way, you’re still plugging every time you charge.


Just Mobile Lounge iPhone Stand Review

I used to have a Treo and the Palm dock, and I really got used to reading and whatnot while it was plugged into the dock on my desk. Since then I’ve tried to get the same functionality out of my iPhone but never really found a working solution. For example, the Apple dock is nice as long as you don’t mind fighting your case on and off when you plug your iPhone in. I’ve tried some other third party docks and stands, but the case or the charging cable is a constant problem. The Just Mobile Lounge gets around this problem, and looks good doing it too. Read on to hear about this desktop stand that also does dashboards.

The Just Mobile Lounge gadget is an aluminum stand crafted by the Danish company tools®, and it’s setup to hold your iPhone on your desk and your dashboard using a unique mounting device. The Lounge is a circular base with a shapely arm attached off to one side, ending in a foam rubber gripping device. The dashboard connector is a circular metal disk with embedded rubber gasket that attaches to the bottom of the Lounge. The bottom ‘clicks’ in with a push and is secured with the rubber gasket. The only permanent piece on your dashboard is the mounting disk, around the size of a silver dollar.

The grip itself is what makes this stand most attractive to me. The metal arm ends in a large metal ‘gripper’, which is much larger than your iPhone but filled with a dense foam-rubber material that actually does the gripping work. Putting your iPhone in the device is easy, even with a case, your just push it into the hand and it ‘pops’ in. The friction caused by the foam rubber keeps the iPhone secure even while bouncing around on bad roads.

The ability to keep it secure without too much pressure is really appreciated. Any case that’s roughly the same size as the iPhone itself will work, including bumpers and most ‘Skin’ cases. The arm on the Lounge also rotates, so you can quickly move the iPhone into landscape or portage mode by just rotating the device, and it locks in 90 degree increments. Although the rotational movement is nice, the arm itself doesn’t change it’s angle and that is the only big problem with the device.

Using the stand on my desk, I first noticed that the angle is too low. Much too low, although you can angle the iPhone inside the grip. The base of the Lounge has a rubber disk on it about where the default angle of the iPhone dictates where the phone will rest. On a desk, it’s about 20 degrees too low and it also led to problems of being both too low and too high in cars. The flexibility of the foam rubber grip on the Lounge does let you angle the iPhone to get around this somewhat, but the iPhone isn’t as stable on these off angles.

Other that the issue with the arm’s inability to move, the Lounge is pretty nice. The finish of the Lounge is really slick, with a clean and elegant design that looks great anywhere. The foam rubber grip is so far my favorite iPhone ‘grip’, and the dashboard connector worked pretty well too. The only issue is the angle, and it’s a pretty big issue, but even with that in mind I’ve found the Just Mobile Lounge still really useful. It’s not too expensive, and the dual car/office usability justify the $40. Ultimately, the fact I can keep my case on while using the stand makes feel it’s worth it.


White iPhone 4 Finally Arrives

Friday, April 29, 2011

Finally, after months and months of waiting, speculating and even doubting, the white Apple iPhone 4 has finally arrived. Yes, that rare white iPhone has been officially announced by Apple and will be made available in the US as well as all over the world beginning today, April 28. So all Apple iPhone enthusiasts, prepare to line up once again into Apple stores and authorized resellers to get your own white iPhone 4 gadget.

It is quite perplexing just how a gadget of a certain color can capture all the attention and can be so eagerly awaited. But then, you may not be an avid enthusiast of all things Apple if you can’t understand this. Although there have been white Apple iPhone 4 gadget versions that have come out since the demand for this rare device were going up, they were not the legitimate version, or one that Apple itself has approved. The new white Apple iPhone 4 gadget is expected to come in 16GB and 32GB models with prices at US$199 and US$299, respectively.


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